Much Like Senior Citizens From the North, Manatees Head To Boca Raton

BOCA RATON, FL ( — As South Florida prepares to welcome Canadians in mobile homes and senior citizens from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, the region is also preparing to roll out the welcome mat for Manatees — the huge mammals that many say are adorable and loving. Manatee season officially starts on November 15th, with local and state officials issuing warnings now to boaters. Here is the official update from the City of Boca Raton:

Manatee season begins on Nov. 15 and ends on March 31 in Palm Beach County.  Manatees are attracted to the warm weather in South Florida as water temperatures drop in the north.  Manatees seek out water that is above 68 degrees which is why they congregate in South Florida as well as at natural springs and warm water discharges from power plants.  In winter, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Lake Worth Lagoon become the manatee’s version of I-95. Local and visiting boaters need to share these waterways with manatees as they travel, just as local motorists need to share the road with vacationers.

The area near the Florida Power & Light power plant in Riviera Beach hosts some of the highest numbers of manatees in the state during cold fronts.  Other local “hot spots” where manatees congregate include the Jupiter Sound, C-18 Canal/Southwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River, Earman River, Lantana/Boynton area, Lake Wyman in Boca Raton, and many side canals along the Intracoastal Waterway that serve as secondary warm water refuges and provide sources of freshwater.

The Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management efforts to help protect manatees include a brochure with waterway speed zone maps, educational kiosks at local boat ramps, habitat restoration and enhancement projects, and the Law Enforcement Program to increase compliance with manatee speed zones countywide. Last season, nine law enforcement agencies with marine units participated in the program.  Eight agencies have renewed their commitment to manatee protection for the 2011-2012 manatee season.  Since 2008, officers logged more than 7,700 additional hours making over 11,000 educational contacts and issuing 697 manatee zones citations. The increased law enforcement presence improves speed zone compliance and reduces risks to both manatees and boaters. Since January 2011, 11 manatee deaths have been recorded in Palm Beach County.  Three were watercraft related.  These levels are slightly above average.

Funding for the Law Enforcement Program comes from a county grant provided to local marine units.  Grant funding for 2011 was reduced from $200,000 to $150,000 due to budget cuts.

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